Fighting for the internet's soul: Why we must prevent gatekeepers from abusing their power online
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In one of the first congressional hearings on net neutrality in 2006, Dr. Vinton Cerf explained to the Senate Committee on Commerce how he’d helped design the architecture of the internet to promote an open and decentralized system. 

A pioneer of protocols for Internet information delivery, Dr. Cerf explained that the internet’s design “places the power and functionality of the net in the hands of the end users (consumers, businesses and application service providers).”

These conscious design choices created an environment of “innovation without permission,” lowering barriers to entry and allowing startups, blogs, applications, and other edge providers to develop new services without getting the approval of gatekeepers or paying tolls. 

Unfortunately, a little more than a decade since this hearing took place, information online has been centralized. A few select online platforms now control access to the bulk of available news, commerce and content.  

Walt Mossberg, who has covered the tech industry for decades, observed earlier this year that “every day, the internet becomes more of a platform for lousy ads, for increasing the power of a few rich companies, and for intrusive tracking. It’s too important to leave unprotected.” Carving the Internet into corporate fiefdoms, as Farhad Manjoo recently described this process, is killing the internet as we know it.

Even worse, the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of net neutrality protections has made it easier for internet service providers to block, throttle, and require payment for access to online content. This marks the death of the Open and Innovative Internet and is an unmitigated disaster for working people, small businesses, and innovation, and deprives families of full access to the internet.

We must fight to ensure nondiscrimination and openness across the internet, from end-to-end. These enduring neutrality principles have long-served as an engine for innovation, tracing back to the era of railroads and canals. In order to protect the free flow of information in the 21st century, it is critical that we both protect existing net neutrality rules and also apply these principles to the dominant platforms, like Facebook, Google and Amazon.

On that cold winter morning in 2006, Dr. Cerf argued, “We must preserve neutrality in this system in order to allow new Googles of the world, new Yahoos!, new Amazons to form.”

His warning is more important today than ever before.

Cicilline is ranking member of the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee.